Are you a teacher all the time?

“A teacher sees the world in a par­tic­u­lar way, and it is not only when he is in a school. I am a teacher all the time.” (Christopher Rogers)

This quote is what I use as a signature in my personal emails. I got it from a blog I read  about a month ago – sorry, can’t remember whose blog, or where, just remembered to get who wrote it so as to rightfully credit it. I chose it as my signature because it speaks to me, I strongly relate to it (my previous quote was “Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.” Confucius). I am a teacher all the time, it’s not just something I “turn on” when I am working. I see ideas for activities everywhere: something people next to me are talking about – yes, I eavesdrop, sue me -, a song I listen to, a controversial piece of news, an advertising or commercial I see, things that happen to me… Well, that’s not exactly new to teachers, is it? I think in one way or another we all do this – some more intensely than others, but we all do it.

No..that's not my daughter :-)

What got me thinking about this, and wondering whether this was a good or a bad thing was something that happened this past week. I was sitting on my computer, working, and my 9-year-old daughter was showing me her homework. She’s not what you’d call a great, committed student. She finds studying boring, almost a waste of time (yes, I do believe God is trying to teach me some lesson by making my daughter this way about studying – still trying to figure out what though. So far it has only aggravated me). And so, I was doing my motherly duty of checking her homework before she went to bed. As I read it, I noticed she had answered a “Why?” question with one word. So I told her she had to rewrite that, because just a word was not good enough, she had to give a complete answer (even though the word she had written was the key of the answer), express herself more thoroughly. As I was saying this the nanny was passing by and she said: “Yeah Gabi, it’s not easy being the daughter of a teacher…”. And that got me thinking. Am I being a teacher to my daughter, instead of a mother? Would a regular non-teacher mother require the same kind of work I do? Am I putting an extra strain on my daughter’s work?

And as I kept reflecting upon this, I suddenly became aware I do that in so may other aspects of my life. for instance, whenever somebody asks me how to pronounce a word in English (I’m talking about a friend. or a relative) I don’t flat out say it – I ask the person “How do you think it’s pronounced? Are there any other words spelled similarly you can remember?”. I try to make the person discover the pronunciation on her/his own. You know, avoiding spoon-feeding. Or if someone doesn’t know how to use a program or to program the TV… I don’t just go there and do it. I assist the person at doing it, giving some instructions but mostly helping the person infer, try it. I also catch myself (more often than I would like)  correcting people’s speech or something I read in my mind – looking for structure/grammar accuracy, better word-choice…

Now I have to admit realizing what I’ve been doing to everyone (who’s not a student of mine) around me made me quiver. I mean, it has to be annoying. Since then I have been making a conscient effort of controling myself and avoiding that. I don’t think I have been very successful at that, but at least I am trying. But at the same time, should I control myself? Is it really that bad?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this… Do you behave like this too? Do you think it’s bad, that it should be avoided/controled?

46 comments on “Are you a teacher all the time?

  1. Hi, Cecilia!

    I do that all the time. I don’t like my students to be dependent on me. After all, that’s the essence of teaching. You have to think of learner autonomy.

    If you’re asking me if this beavior ought to be controlled, well, only when you’re not playing teacher. But the irony is, you “teach” all the time (i.e., when someone asks how to operate the photocopier).

    Once a teacher, always a teacher?

    • Hi Ande!

      Yes, I am a firm believer (and enforcer) of learner autonomy. Even when in class I don’t correct my students all the time and avoid spoon-feeding at all costs. I guess my question was more along the lines of life outside the classroom. But the teacher in us does seem to permeate all (or at least many of) our interactions, doesn’t it? thanks for sharing your opinion :-)

      • That’s right, Cecilia.

        I guess what I was trying to say is, when you’re a teacher, it doesn’t matter if you’re inside the classroom or not, certain “teacher” behaviors extend outside the classroom.

        Allow me to explain.

        When I’m out with my friends, I don’t treat them like my students, of course, but when they ask me something I think I need to give them education to, I employ some of my teaching strategies (I use in the classroom). If there’s an opportunity to teach, no matter how small and simple it is such as giving directions on how to operate a cellphone, I employ certain techniques I use in the classroom.

        But I’m with you on whether or not this behavior needs to be controlled because in my opinion, it shouldn’t. I mean, as teachers, it’s our duty to teach the world. :)

      • Hey Ande :-)

        Yes, it appears to be really hard for us to get rid of the teacher attitude… Maybe toning it down a bit will be enough :-) But I have to say I was a bit nervous with your last comment, when you said “It’s our duty to teach the world.” – That’s a lot to take in… I’m afraid of sounding a bit presumptious by taking that to heart. How about “it’s our essence trying to educate whenever we can?”. I’m always afraid of the wording of things…

        LOVE your comments! Keep stopping by!

  2. Carl says:


    Some years ago I had a class that had behaved horribly, at the end of the day, I was not in a very good mood. Even though I had time to unload this in my teacher carpool, I didn’t.

    So, I came home barking orders, being gruff, etc. Finally, my precious wife turned to me and quietly said, “Turn off the teacher”. What a shock, I suddenly realized what I was doing, but at the same time, it helped me in the classroom the next day as I turned off the the teacher and became a co-learner with my students.

    Teachers have a hard time not being “helicopter parents”, work at it and you and daughter will figure it out, (I am a son of two teachers).

    • Hi Carl!

      I too am the daughter of two teachers… Can’t think of ever feeling pressured by it though. But I have definetely been through the situation you describe, which raises a flag at the behavior. Maybe the ones who have to deal with us on a day to day basis are the ones who take it the hardest – or do they adjust to it? But I see eye to eye with you when you say realizing this and being aware of it makes us better teachers to our learners as well. I just have to keep reminding myself of that ;-) Thanks for your comment!

  3. kfbunny says:

    I completely relate. Sometimes I feel as though in being ‘teacher’ all the time, I am also acting as part ‘psychiatrist’. Maybe it is annoying, but maybe it is also appreciated.

    I look at things in the world with teacher eyes. I find everyday items like newspaper articles or signs or scenes in a store as potential sources of classroom material. I have a hard time turning it off. I’m sure those of us committed to teaching do.

    • Hi Tyson!

      I loved that you stopped by to leave your thoughts on it. I completely relate to the ‘psychiatrist’ part of what you said – man! the stories I’ve heard would make a great book! – and I guess it is on the fine print of the job description. Being a teacher and caring about the students ends up getting mixed with all the emotions they go through and they turn to us. Just this week I gave a long hug on a student who lingered around after class to let me know she hadn’t done the homework because her boyfriend had dumped her – at which point she started crying…

      My question to you is, depite being hard to turn the teacher mode off, do you do it? Do you feel you should do it?

      • kfbunny says:

        I definitely think life is about balance (I did just see “Eat Pray Love” last night), so yes, turning off the ‘teacher’ is important. But the way that I do it is to involve myself in hobbies that don’t require explanation to anyone else (eg. digital design, organising things, etc). Otherwise, I either spend too much time with ELT on the brain or find myself volunteering to be the one to explain the card game we’re playing to a friend, the directions to somewhere for someone who’s never been there or the scoring system to a game. It’s just hard not to believe I’m the best at knowing how to make people understand.

  4. DavidD says:

    Hi Cecilia,

    A great opening post followed by an equally good second one! Like you, I’ve wondered at times if the teacher in me takes over the father in me when around my son, who is growing up bilingual. He really started to talk and converse last summer, after his 3rd birthday and I found myself analysing his grammar and vocab all the time, wondering if he was saying things the way he did due to limited exposure to English or just as a normal part of speech development. Luckily, the teacher in my mother had the answer as she has spent most of her adult life working in early childhood education and she informed me that native speaker children still take time to develop accurate, fluent speech. The best thing is recasting of what he says and giving him time to work it all out for himself.

    In the end, I found that the father in me started to influence the teacher in me. I am now much more relaxed about my students’ errors, especially when talking. I avoid explicit corrections and try to recast as much as possible or let the little errors slide. I tell them that it all comes with time and they should be confident that the other person/people in the conversation understand them. Teaching is a part of who we are but I think the our lives influence how we teach as much as how we teach influences our lives.

    Keep the posts coming!

    David D

    • Hi Dave!

      Wow! Thanks for the great compliment! I hope to be able to keep posting interesting things :-) Just like you I’m trying to get both my kids (I also have a 5-year-old son) to grow bilingual – I mean, English is an essential, special part of my life – so they go to a bilingual school here and I speak English to them when it’s just us. And I’ve rad a lot about bilingual education so I am not very anxious about them speaking in English (my daughter has actually surprised me a lot and has a very nice fluency and structure of the language – she just started on the bilingual school last year). Felipe (my son) has never studied anywhere else, so English has been a big part of his life too. And still he understands everything I say but replies in Portuguese 75% of the time. This is absolutely normal. As for the analyzing their grammar, yeah, I do that too. But I don’t voice it (and I think that’s key!) so when she is telling me about the field trip they did this weel and keeps using simple present, I nod and praise her on it, saying how well she’s speaking :-)

      And I agree with you that as much as the teacher influences the parent, so does the parent influence the teacher, and I have been more aware of how to/when is appropriate to correct. I totally relate to that. Communication is the objective, right? ;-) thanks for stopping by!

  5. Great post, Cecilia!

    I think these kind of things are probably innate, myself.

    My parents aren’t teachers by trade, but I can remember them using many of the same methods to teach me things when I was a small child that I use in the classroom now.

    My mother taught me to read and write (longhand) before I started school, and if it hadn’t have been for my father, I probably would have flunked maths completely! In other words, I’m guessing that most good parents will probably employ many of the same (or similar) strategies with their kids, anyway.

    From what you say, it sounds like you are getting the balance about right to me.

    It’s when you find yourself asking the kids to work in pairs to describe what they had for lunch that you know it’s time to tone it down… ;-)


    • Hi Sue!

      Thank you! I think you are probably right and all parents do these kind of things – I just wonder if I take things a bit too far. And not only with my kids, but everyone around me If there’s one thing I don’t want to is become a person people are afraid to talk to or ask questions. I will however be careful not to start pairing them up! LOL! Loved that :-)

  6. That’s life, Cecilia! There’s a kind of (good) compulsive behaviour ,,, We’re trying to be constantly teaching and learning. That’s really good! Kisses.

    • Hi Mario!

      I can see the positive side of having this 24/7 compulsive teaching attitude. And I loved that you mentioned learning as well, because even though I didn’t mention in the post, I also do that when I ask somebody how to do something – I never let them just do it for me, but rather ask them to teach me how to do it. So in a way it balances the teaching too – I do it to people but I also expect people to do it to me.

      I guess it’s like what Sue said: some things are just innate. Thanks for stopping by and commenting :-)

  7. Hi Cecilia!

    Another great post! Sometimes, I do the same with my children. I started teaching English to my 4-year-old son when he was 2. Leonardo is 3 and I am doing the same, they are doing quite well. I don’t know if it is right or wrong but I think that it is perfectly normal if we listen to something being pronounced in a wrong way, we tend to correct. I try not to do this all the time, cause I’m afraid they can loose their joy of learning.

    Luciana Podschun
    São Paulo, Brazil

    • ha, ha! It’s so true – I once had quite a big argument with a friend about her sentence structure: basically informing her that she should have used a present perfect continuous instead of a present continuous (yes, with those labels) and first she looked at me as if she thought I was from another planet and secondly she was hurt…

      a good lesson!

      • Hi Karenne!

        I can’t believe you actually used those terms! LOL! Did you go on drawing a time line on a napkin to explain why? That would’ve been funny! The good thing about all of this is that at least we see our faux pas and try to keep them under control. like you said, good lesson – we learn from it. Thanks for your comment!

    • Hi Lu!

      Maybe while having a teacher as a parent may be a little more demanding, it is also benefitial :-) I’m starting to realize the habit goes all around, it affects all teachers. And we just have to keep in mind not to overdo it, keep some balance. Thanks for your comment! :-)

  8. Neil McMahon says:

    An excellent blog post, Cecilia, many thanks.

    I often have this problem when my Argentine wife is reading a book in English. She asks me what a word means, I ask her to look at the context, what do you think it means? She asks how it’s pronounced, I start to drill her…

    She gives me one of those looks and gets back to her book.

    But it hasn’t stopped her asking up til now and she tends to remember most of the words she asks about and even uses them sometimes, so you never know…

    • Hi Neil!

      Thanks for the compliment – I’m happy you found it interesting. and I loved your own life’s example of 24/7 teaching. I especially liked it because despite her giving you “the look” your behavior proves effective :-) And getting evidence our teaching has worked (whether inside or outside the classroom) is always rewarding – and validating. So the lesson to be learned is not to get discouraged by “the look”!!!

  9. Courtney says:

    Hi Ceci,

    I´m only half-teacher anymore, but I still catch myself doing this, especially with family and friends, and then I backpedal. While I completely understand always feeling like a teacher, I agree that it can be annoying to others, and can give the impression of arrogance. I found myself, recently, correcting the use of some concept that someone was using, starting my sentence with “Well, actually …”, then I realized what I was doing, completed my sentence, and tried to make up for it with something along the lines of “I mean, I think that´s what it is” or “but I just learned that last week”. Of course, by that time it is too late and instead of listening to what the other person had to say, focusing on context and discourse, I had already discredited them. Sometimes, we just need to shut up and listen :)

    That said, I do appreciate it when friends point out my grammar or vocab mistakes/misconceptions. I just prefer that it´s done in a separate conversation instead of in the middle of a conversation. And I think that this applies to other areas of life (outside of language) as well. My sister over the weekend was kind enough to point out, in a very gentle fashion, that I tend to repeat a phrase often and that it sounds strange. I took that advice well, because she didn´t interrupt me to say so. I assume that others are like that too, but I might be wrong.

    Fortunately, most of the people around me would not take my lessons lightly anyway. If I replied to “Hey, Courtney, how do you hook up the VCR?” with “Well, let´s take a look at how the TV inputs and the VCR output cables are designed to see if we can infer …” the immediate response would be “Courtney, shut the *!?!! up and tell me how to plug the darn thing in.” I suppose that this is better than having them take it, and then grumble about my pretentiousness later, right?

    • Hi Court!!!

      Let me start by saying you are not half a teacher…there’s no such thing. Once a teacher, always a teacher! And you truly are one, and a great one at that. As for annoying others, that’s my fear, and especially what you said about being perceived as arrogant. I’ve had people tell me they had had that impression of me before they got to know me. And that really annoyed, because if there’s one thing YOU KNOW I am not is arrogant – quite the other way around… :-) So I have been extra careful about that, to avoid giving out that impression. Balance seems to be the key in anything we do huh? And, as you said, knowing the moment to correct people – both inside and outside the classroom. Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment Mitch. Miss you.


  10. Pedrina says:

    It’s nice that you are speaking for most of us teachers. It’s really true that teachers see everything as teaching opportunies. The thing is, when to stop. It’s 11.40 p.m. now and I could be doing something else. But I am here, looking for interesting blogs such as yours. At least, I know I am not alone.

    • Hi Pedrina!

      Thank you so much for your motivating words. When I read your comment, besides enjoying the fact you enjoyed and related to what I wrote I also caught myself looking at the clock – same time as yours – and thinking the same thing. Thinking of the classes I had to finish for my Wednesday groups, the emails I have to reply to, etc etc… But I was reading blogs and saving interesting tweets on my favorite list so I can look at them when I have some more time. No, you are certainly not alone :-)

  11. Gilmar says:

    Hi Cecília,
    Really liked your post and the invitation to think about. BTW, isn’t it teacher’s behavior? I know as bloggers we are “taught” to always finish a post with a question or, as I said, an invitation for reflection. Now, do non-teacher bloggers do so all the time? Maybe not. I think it’s only natural to behave the way you described even when we are not in the classroom. We are teachers all the time. Can it be a pain? I think it all depends on the way you do things. I can see my friends do expect it from me and I’m always required to give an opinion about the right word to use, pronunciation and all that.
    Well…my 2 cents. Thank you.

    • Hi Gilmar,

      I’m happy you liked the post and especially the invitation to think. For me that’s the best things about blogs – the reflection it invites us to make. Even when talking about concepts or issues we have known for some time, revisiting them is always worth it and many times you end up with a different view on it, a new angle. I especially feel this need to revisit things in this time of an immesurable amount of information available to us, being (literally) sent our way. Just as we know that a student has to be exposed to a word or a structure many times before he/she truly learns it, I believe we too have to read and hear and dicuss things to finally make sense of it.

      But yes, I guess ending things with a question, more than a “blogger” thing is an innate teacher behavior. I have no intention of changing that (am also a very curious person – is it another common teacher trait?), but am trying to be more aware of it and how people take it. Thanks for dropping what was on your mind (much more than 2 cents worth). :-)

  12. educlaytion says:

    I know what you mean about the conflicting feelings of being a teacher/parent. Sometimes we use up so much energy on students that we give less than our best at home. I think that’s a challenge for every teacher, but if you are a teacher then you are always on. Congrats on starting your blog.
    Find me on Twitter @eduClaytion

    • Hi Clay,
      Thanks for your comment. I’ve come to realize that although there are conflicting feelings of being a parent/teacher there are also a lot of benefits – we understand a lot of things about how information is processed, how learning takes place and the timing of things better than most parents. And our kids benefit from it as well.
      And I’ve found you already ;-)

  13. Ceri says:

    Hi Cecilia,
    Lots and lots of great food for thought. You’ve definitely tapped into a rich seam there! And so many echoes in the comments, on the receiving end as well ;) I know there are lots of times when I don’t like to be taught ( the correction of surface errors in an argument with an ex boyfriend springs to mind!) and just as many times when I wish I’d left the teacher-me at home! Nice to be reminded that we need to remember to listen and learn as well. Thanks!

    • Hi Ceri,

      Do you think teachers have a harder time at accepting being corrected? That’s something that came to mind when I was reading your comment… I don’t know. Answering my own question (!!!) I have the impression it’s not about being a teacher or not – personally I take being corrected better than most people I know. I do believe it has a lot to do with something Courtney mentioned on her comment to this post: the timing of the correction. Being corrected in the middle of a conversation (like what I think happened to the example you gave of you and an ex) is aggravating to whoever it happens to, because it interrupts your line of thought, and when having a conversation / argument the importance is on meaning/message – definetely NOT on form. Maybe teachers are more aware of that because we (hopefully) are more aware of that when we are with our students in class. We know there are times where correction is appropriate – and welcomed – and others when it actually becomes counter-productive.
      Hmmm… I think I just had an idea for another post… Thanks for giving me more food for thought Ceri!

  14. Yes, I think I am a teacher most of the time, whether I know it or not or like it or not… But all the time I have spent with teaching YLs has certainly helped various aspects of my parenting skills, and the time teaching adults and writing materials has been good for helping my wife (who is a migrant in Australia now and still developing her English).

    Still, there ARE times you really need to consciously turn off that teacher in you.

    Both of my parents were busy, hard-working managers in retail, and I have to admit that really came out in their parenting as well. There were times I really hated it! Bloody hell, why does dinner have to be scheduled like a staff meeting???

    • LOL!!! A staff-meeting dinner? Got a few visuals, all of them made me laugh (very imaginative, very visual person!)! Yeah, I guess you can’t take the teacher out of the individual as much as you can’t take the individual out of the teacher. But hey, maybe that’s part of our charm! I’ll keep working on the turning off part – I can sure get better at that! ;-)

  15. Laura says:

    I LOVE THIS. I do it constantly. I don’t care, I can’t turn of the “teaching.” It shows that you care what you do and your mind doesn’t turn ‘off’ at 4pm or on a Friday afternoon. So many people think our profession is easy because it’s steady hours, no evenings or weekends. They have no idea just how much of our brain power is consumed by what we do because we never turn off the teaching.

  16. What a great reflection, Cecilia! I don’t correct other people only because I’m always corrected and I do find it annoying when I trying to relax with friends. This is mostly at conferences, though, with other teachers! LOL! I think it’s fine that you’re always a teacher and don’t spoon feed. I think it speaks very highly of you as a person and if our students see us outside the classroom as the same person in the classroom, I think this is very powerful! :-)

    • Thanks Shelly! I personally like being corrected, but I agree that there are moments when it just isn’t nice. And like Courtney said, I prefer it to be done without interrupting a conversation, sometimes in a more one-on-one setting. I used to correct people in front of others, then I was shown how uncomfortable that could be and I changed. Now if I really feel the person will welcome being corrected I wait for the right moment and then do it. Taking timing into consideration too – no good doing it days after it took place, right? :-) Thanks for your comment!

  17. Hi Cecelia, a lovely post, it resonates with me and with many others too, I can see. Personally, I’m always on the look out for lovely pieces of language, succinct quotations like your ex-favourite by Confucius. If you have any favourites in Portuguese, I’d love to hear them.

    • Hi David,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. It does seem many people feel the same way, doesn’t it? Maybe teaching is inherent, we are just born that way and can’t help it. Or maybe feeling and acting that way are a result of years of being in the teacher’s position, we end up acquiring (and then falling onto) behavior patterns.

      Since you enjoy quotations like that, I selected a few that I’m fond of in Portuguese for you:

      – Não tenhamos pressa, mas não percamos tempo. – José Saramago
      – O valor das coisas não está no tempo em que elas duram, mas na intensidade com que acontecem.
      Por isso existem momentos inesquecíveis, coisas inexplicáveis e pessoas incomparáveis – Fernando Pessoa
      – Feliz aquele que transfere o que sabe e prende o que ensina. – Cora Coralina


  18. […] including reflections from some of the new ELT bloggers, like this week’s writer. Title: Are you a teacher all the time? Writer: Cecilia Coelho Role in Education: English Teacher in Brazil Date Posted: Sept. 26, 2010 […]

  19. Dara says:

    Hi! Nice post thank you and the rest for the comments. I must confess I haven’t deeply thought about this issue but it came to my mind a coversation between teachers in I course on Key Competences I’m attending.
    The teachers involved were “quarreling” about raising standards and how difficult it is to get students to promote, especially those with especial education needs.
    One of them said something I really liked and now I want to share:
    “Before teachers we are human beings and that is what we should expect from our students”
    I’ll keep thinking about all this! Again thanks!

    • Hi Dara,

      Thank you for your positive feedback. This is something I’ve been thinking much this week again, triggered by a comment a student made… I also think we have to remember we are all human beings. And it becomes very evident when you see a bunch of teachers in the role of students, taking a course or during a workshop. How many times it is difficult to get the audience of teachers’ attention? How many times these teachers (as students) don’t hand in papers or assignments because they “didn’t have time” or something else? And yet, sometimes we don’t accept this from our students.

      Taking real interest in the students, seeing each student as an individual makes a big difference I think. Thanks for bringing me back to this! :-)

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